Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wind That Fucks The Barley

Beyond this stage of rotting meat
Where puppets die, scorned and broken,
Buxom women made of wheat
Express desire with no word spoken.

Minta Cantos, "Salvation Grain," 1927.

I've never understood what Cantos was talking about here, yet her imagery of wheat women, as well as her epic poems covering a genealogy of various grain people, consumed me at an early age. Though Cantos knew, socialized with, and sometimes loved notable figures like Man Ray, Zelda Fitzgerald, King Oliver, James Joyce, Red Grange, and Emmy Hennings, her artistic vision oftentimes clashed with her peers, resulting in hurt feelings and property damage. Nevertheless, Cantos kept conjuring worlds of talking, crying, fucking grain, her Yeast Monologues and Rye Diaries perhaps her most ambitious work.

By her 50s, Cantos succumbed to her visions, convinced that toasters were Nazi ovens, conducting elaborate funerals in her garden for burnt bread. She tried to kill herself by jumping off her one-story roof, but merely sprained her ankle, the ache of which plagued her until she died of respiratory failure at 67. Her legacy endures in Pillsbury Doughboy commercials, a character she created decades before as a millet hustler amid virgin oats. She later sued Pillsbury and lost, but her loss is our grain.